The Problem of Hegemony
Gerry Dorrian on The New European
“What first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?” Debbie McGhee, the magician’s wife, was famously asked by Mrs Merton, as played by the late Caroline Aherne. So famously, in fact, that her reply, “he wasn’t a millionaire when I met him,” has all but faded from public memory. But this is what leading statements do: they prompt the mind to form conclusions under the logical radar and are therefore immune to fact-based objections.
Shortly after the EU referendum, a new title appeared in newsagents, branding itself as “the new pop-up paper for the 48%”, this being the share of those who chose to Remain. The 48% are composed of a diverse range of people, just like the 52%.
This is where the leading statements come in. On the front page of the third issue of The New European is a teaser for “Howard Jacobson’s stunning essay on Brexit”: “We all have a stain of racism in us…when we become its slave, then we are dangerous.” There you have it: if you voted Leave, you are either racist or, as Jacobson puts it, a purveyor of “immoderate expressions of uninformed opinion”. This leading statement evinces the metropolitan elite’s elitist response whenever it encounters points of view outside the limits it sanctions. Hence the Times’ reaction on 25 June, the Saturday after the referendum, which was to print a detailed regional breakdown of voting figures accompanied by statistics detailing the average educational standard of each region.
In TNE #2 the Independent’s editor, Amol Rajan, penned In Defence of the Liberal Metropolitan Elite. However, he scored only two out of three, as it is profoundly illiberal to castigate people whose views are at odds with the project to create a supranational bloc in order to enact hard-left policies which have failed in all of the bloc’s constituent countries. Even more illiberal is the plan to rerun the referendum with the over-60s excluded from the franchise, a stand which the student paper The Tab took before June 23 on the grounds that “you’re going to be dead soon”.
Another example of the illiberality of the metropolitan elite is in their portraying every individual who opposes the attempt to subvert democracy into an amorphous, undifferentiated mass they label “white working class”, the present incarnation of the Other, which is fired up by what Alistair Campbell describes in TNE #2 as “right wing lying newspapers” and “right wing lying politicians”. Cue blanket-bombing across traditional and social media with references to racism, xenophobia, the far-right and all the other epithets brought to bear when the intended effect is to switch off thinking in favour of fury.
Do the staff of The New European think that no middle-class people voted Leave – no business owners, academics or journalists? Nobody who does not identify as white? Nobody who came to the UK for a better life and now worries about how open-door immigration will impact their children’s and grandchildren’s access to health and education? On the political front the Daily Mirror, a major Brexit backer, has supported Labour for decades, while I’ve never heard the likes of Dennis Skinner or Kate Hoey, both prominent Leavers, described as right-wing. A hero of the Left, the late Tony Benn, practically drew up the blueprint for Euroscepticism.
Kant held that we synthesise the world in which we live by using sense-perceptions of the unreachable Dinge an sich, organised through a priori categories such as causality and time. While Kant saw a transcendental self as the screen on which a constant stream of images is projected to form a sense of the individual consciousness, some decades later Hegel collectivised the transcendental self to form a general consciousness which he compared to a bondsman, from which individual consciousness arises as its lord. Not everybody can achieve this lordship, however. Since Hegel supported Prussia’s project to establish a German state from the surrounding principalities, he elevated only those noble souls who identified with the goals of the State. But such was his influence on Marx and Engels that general consciousness or bondmanship became recontextualised as the Lumpenproletariat – the unenlightened, undifferentiated working masses – while those who identified with the communist project inherited the lordship of revolutionary consciousness in preparation for their ascension to the status of ruling class, the previous occupants having vacated their posts à la Terreur.
With this lordship comes Adam’s right to name things, therefore the label “white working class” is anybody who opposes the hegemonic class regardless of political persuasion, educational status, income bracket or skin colour. This last becomes a political place-marker as opposed to a fact, as philosopher Clarence Sholé Johnson indicates:
…there is no incongruity in the idea of a person being pigmentationally white and politically black, or of a person being pigmentationally black and politically white. All that it means to say that a person is politically black is that the person is anti-status quo; that she or he is ideologically committed to de-centering whiteness; that she or he is oppositional or counterhegemonic.
When the formerly counterhegemonic class attains hegemony, going by the above quote, you might expect the populations labelled “white working class” to be recognised as a counterhegemonic group providing balance, but instead the drawbridge went up, with those who insisted on freedoms of expression to challenge the then-orthodoxy now demanding these freedoms be denied the Other. Witness TNE’s demands for the democratically-expressed voice of the majority to be overturned, or the failed petition to ban the Daily Mail.
All this isn’t to say TNE doesn’t contain some fair comment. In #1, Observer journalist Miranda Sawyer admits that “in the People’s Republic of Lambeth I have friends who have visited Macchu Pichu but never seen Newcastle”, and in his above-mentioned essay, Howard Jacobson worries about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of Labour. But here the Other intrudes again, in that Jacobson can only express his dismay at Corbyn’s followers taking Labour in a sinister direction by designating them “the mob”, which is presumably an updated Lumpenproletariat.
The problem of hegemony is that it attaches greater value to a small elite, metropolitan or otherwise, than to the individuals who make up the majority. It was formerly a concept in linguistics describing the primacy of language over thought, but it was reworked by Gramsci into a strategy for consolidating a communistic regime in a democratic country while retaining the appearance of democracy.
Hegemony’s kryptonite is the Benthamite principle “everybody to count for one, nobody for more than one”, a statement of classical liberalism that the liberal metropolitan elite regard as antithetical to their federalisation project. Counting every person as one and nobody as more (or less) than one also ensures that members of one group who previously found themselves welcomed in an organisation, for example Jews in the Labour Party, do not later find they count as less than one in an attempt to reconfigure that organisation. Bentham’s dictum is the lifeblood of democracy and the principle under which the referendum votes were counted.
I don’t know any Remainers in the housing estate where I live who have a problem with equality. But I doubt whether The New European would make Remainers in housing estates one of its target demographics. And that’s just another aspect of the problem of hegemony.
 See Bogdanor, Vernon, Social Democracy in Seldon, Anthony (ed.), Blair’s Britain, Cambridge University Press 2007, p173
 See On the Clue to the Discovery of all Pure Concepts of the Understanding in Kant, Immanuel, Critique of Pure Reason (1781), trans Paul Guyer and Allen W Wood, Cambridge University Press 1998, pp204-218
 Kant, op cit, p232
 Hegel, GFW, The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), Oxford University Press 1977, 115-119
 Hegel, op cit p305
 The word seems to have been coined by Friedrich Engels in The Model Republic (1849), in Collected Works vol 9, p44
 Johnson, Clarence Sholé, (Re)Conceptualising Blackness and Making Race Obsolescent in Yancy, George (ed.), White on White, Black on Black, Rowman & Littlefield 2005, p180
 This dictum was ascribed to Bentham (1748-1832) by John Stuart Mill in Utilitarianism (1863): Mill, John Stuart, On Liberty, Utilitarianism and other essays, Oxford University Press 2015, p175
GERRY DORRIAN devoted two years to studying the EU in preparation for the promised referendum and he published his conclusions under a pseudonym at https://www.academia.edu/15224779/Escape_from_Oppression_The_Federalist_Derivation He writes from Cambridge